Obama Tells Mayors to Review Use of Force Policies Amid Protests
(Bloomberg) -- Former President Barack Obama called on the nation’s mayors to review their police departments’ use of force policies and commit to reforms during a virtual town hall Wednesday after nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
“We need mayors, county executives, others who are in positions of power to say: This is a priority,” Obama said.
The remarks were the first time the former president had spoken on-camera since Floyd’s death, though he published an essay earlier in the week calling for those who are eager for change to vote – particularly in local elections – and make concrete demands for specific criminal justice reforms that leaders can implement.
Obama joined former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in issuing public statements on protests that, in some cities, have devolved into looting and rioting or have been met by police violence.
Carter, in his statement on Wednesday, supported the protesters.
“People of power, privilege, and moral conscience must stand up and say ‘no more’ to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, immoral economic disparities between whites and blacks, and government actions that undermine our unified democracy,” he said, without naming President Donald Trump. “We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this.”
Obama called public frustration over racism and police policies in recent months “as profound as anything I have seen in my lifetime.” But he did not even implicitly criticize Trump, who has for weeks promoted a baseless conspiracy theory that his predecessor’s government sought to illegally undermine his administration through the Russia investigation.
Obama instead struck an optimistic tone.
“I hope you also feel hopeful, even as you may feel angry, because you have the power to make things better and you have helped to make the entire country feel as if this is something that’s got to change,” Obama said to protesters.
Trump has so far sidestepped calls for broad policing reform and has called on city and state leaders to crack down on demonstrations to avoid further violence or destruction. On Wednesday, Trump for the first time said that police departments “have to get better than what they’ve been doing” during a radio interview with Fox News, but so far has not proposed specific reforms.
Obama said that he was heartened to see that many officers have been as outraged as protesters.
“So we’re grateful to the vast majority,” he said.
But the former president stressed the need for changes to “strengthen public trust and foster better working relationships between law enforcement and communities that they’re supposed to protect, even as they’re continuing to promote effective crime reduction.”
Obama’s remarks came at an event hosted by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit organization he helped launch during his time in office aimed at helping minority boys and young men.
The charity grew out of a White House task force Obama established in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was fatally shot while walking home from a convenience store by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Martin’s death and the deaths of unarmed black men during police interactions – including Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Eric Garner in New York, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – led to national protests during Obama’s presidency.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.